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Awards and Achievements
Student Spotlight Interview with Mihindra Dunuwille July 1, 2015
Congratulations to Mihindra Dunuwille, a spring 2015 Chemistry Ph.D. graduate at Washington State University (WSU), who has recently started working as a postdoc at the University of Utah! During her time at WSU, Mihindra worked on ALERT research under the guidance of Prof. Choong-Shik Yoo. Her thesis, “Pressure-induced Physical and Chemical Changes of Non-conventional Energetic Materials: Nitrate, Perchlorate and Peroxide Chemistries at High Pressures and High Temperatures,” focused on discerning the chemical properties of non-conventional materials that are widely used in terrorist activities in the hopes of developing techniques to mitigate explosives-related threats.
In order to understand how these chemicals are altered to become explosive, Mihindra performed experiments to determine the effects of physical and thermal conditions (e.g. pressure and temperature) on chemical properties on three types of oxidizers: nitrate, perchlorate and peroxide.
When asked about her experience working on this project, Mihindra describes her enthusiasm for the breadth of information that she was able to acquire just by tuning the physical variables (e.g. pressure) of these chemicals. Regarding the project’s overall mission, she states, “I’m passionate about how this can be used in real life applications, and that it can change people’s lives for the better.”
Mihindra has been drawn to physical chemistry since high school, and received her B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka. She was originally introduced to Prof. Yoo’s research while at WSU on a prospective visit before accepting their offer to join the Ph.D. program in 2008. Of her experience working with Prof. Yoo, she remembers being encouraged to investigate the scientific basis of experimental observations on her own, instead of being handed the answers, and says, “It made me a better scientist.”
In her new role as a postdoc at the University of Utah, Mihindra has the opportunity to demonstrate her skills and experience from her previous project, while also getting the chance to explore new scientific techniques. Her current project, “Superconductivity of Lithium Rich Compounds,” will give her the chance to study the effects of high pressures and low temperatures on chemical properties, and will offer her the opportunity to get more experience with x-ray diffraction techniques. When asked about her career goals, she undoubtedly wants to continue doing research on explosives where she would like to have a positive impact on society, and would one day like to work for a national lab.
Mihindra’s enthusiasm for her work becomes quickly apparent when speaking with her, and is further reinforced by Prof. Yoo, who reflects, “She was smart, careful, responsible, and highly motivated both in her research and academic leadership roles… in short, she was an excellent graduate student with a high level of devotion and morale.”
ALERT Student Spotlight: Yolanda Rodriguez-Vaqueiro April 30, 2015
April 30, 2015
Some us are lucky enough to know what we want to do with our lives at an early age. For Yolanda Rodriguez-Vaqueiro, an ALERT Research Assistant and recent doctoral degree recipient in the Electrical and Computer Engineering program at Northeastern University, a career in STEM has been a lifelong dream.
“From the very beginning, my brain was a mathematical one. Instead of a left and right brain, I like to say that I have two left brains. For example, there is only one answer to 2 + 2. For me, that is perfection!” declares Rodriguez-Vaqueiro with good humor.
During her four-year involvement with ALERT, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro’s primary research focus has been developing compressive sensing for standoff detection of security threats at distances of 10 to 50 meters using millimeter wave radar. This research is highly relevant to the Homeland Security Enterprise, as it could be utilized by law enforcement and first responders to detect explosives and weapons from a safe distance. Rodriguez-Vaqueiro is credited with proposing a new geometric configuration for a multiple-bistatic, millimeter wave radar imaging system, which could potentially be used for threat detection in outdoor environments, such as sporting events and music festivals.
Under the guidance of advisors Professor Jose Martinez-Lorenzo and Professor Carey Rappaport, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro was given the freedom to test out new ideas and come into her own as a researcher. According to her, “My capacity to do research has improved significantly. I learned how to take an idea and apply it to the real world by creating simulations and collecting data from measurements done in the lab. Both Professor Martinez and Professor Rappaport were excellent mentors. I was able to give them my very best work thanks to their guidance. They allowed me a great deal of independence to try new things on my own, while pushing me to become a better researcher.”
Rodriguez-Vaqueiro points out that research does not come without difficulty. She states, “When you’re doing research, every project and every new day presents challenges. For example, every time we get data from the lab, it’s a challenge to decipher that data, and then take that data and turn it into an image for others to understand. I’m a person who enjoys challenges though.”
During her time with ALERT, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro was a prolific writer. She authored and collaborated on a total of 14 peer-reviewed publications, receiving the Best Paper Award (2012 IEEE Homeland Security Technology Conference), the Best Propagation Paper Award (2014 European Conference on Antennas and Propagation), and most recently, the Burke/Yannas Bioengineering Best Paper Award (47th Annual Meeting of the American Burn Association), which recognizes original research studies in the field of bioengineering. Additionally, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro is the 2015 recipient of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Research Impact Award at Northeastern University. Publishing her research is among her greatest achievements: “Every time I publish a paper, it’s a huge milestone for me, because you finally have the opportunity to share the results of your research with the public. You may have been working on a project for a long time—six months, or a year—and then you get to write it all down. It’s very exciting.”
Despite balancing her roles as an ALERT Research Assistant and doctoral candidate, Rodriguez-Vaqueiro made time to mentor other students, introducing approximately 15 high school and undergraduate students to STEM research. She especially enjoyed her experience mentoring high school students through Young Scholars, a program operated by the Northeastern University Center for STEM Education: “It was very rewarding for me to assist high school students, because although they have little research experience, they were able to obtain meaningful results from scratch. They also learned some basics in coding. It was good for them, and for me.”
“Without a doubt,” claims her advisor, Professor Martinez-Lorenzo, “She is one of the most talented students that I have ever had during my academic career. She was the Ph.D. student that every faculty member desires in a research group—a student who sets the example of true leadership. I believe Yolanda will have an outstanding academic career solving important and difficult engineering problems with her unique insight and her quick mind.”
Rodriguez-Vaqueiro plans to continue her research and mentoring efforts in a post-doctoral position at the University of Vigo in Pontevedra, Spain, where she will be exploring electromagnetic engineering in regard to checkpoint security applications, and will no doubt, inspire other STEM students to follow their dreams.
Borja Gonzalez and Prof. Carey Rappaport, win the Best Antenna Design and Application Paper Award at EuCAP 2015 April 29, 2015
Congratulations to our ALERT researchers, Borja Gonzalez (PostDoc) and Prof. Carey Rappaport, who won the Best Antenna Design and Application Paper Award at the EuCAP 2015 – the 9th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation. Their paper, “Multistatic Nearfield Imaging Radar for Portal Security Systems Using a High Gain Toroidal Reflector Antenna,” was presented by Prof. Rappaport at the conference, held this year in Lisbon, Portugal on April 12th – 17th. Selected from over 1,000+ papers presented throughout the conference, ALERT proudly congratulates Carey and Borja on this impressive achievement.
ALERT-affiliated students and faculty honored at NEU Academic Honors Convocation April 24, 2015
On Thursday, April 23rd, three ALERT-affiliated undergraduate students and two faculty members were honored at Northeastern University’s 2015 Academic Honors Convocation, which celebrates the achievements of community members who have made exceptional strides in ways of research, scholarship, teaching and mentoring in higher education. We hope that you will join us in congratulating the following individuals on their noteworthy accomplishments.
Emma Kaeli, E’18, Chemical Engineering
Emma Kaeli has been named a 2015 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, the most prestigious undergraduate science scholarship in the country. Recipients of this award must demonstrate outstanding potential for and interest in pursuing a career in math, science or engineering research. Emma was involved in the Center as a 2014 Gordon-CenSSIS Scholar, working as a research assistant on breast cancer detection under the mentorship of Thrust 3 Leader Carey Rappaport. She intends to pursue a doctorate degree in material sciences and continue her research in photovoltaic materials for environmental sustainability and human development.
Neel Shah, E’15, Computer Engineering
Neel Shah received the 2015 Harold D. Hodgkinson Award, one of three awarded annually to Northeastern seniors. The Hodgkinson Award is one of the highest honors bestowed upon graduating students, who are nominated by faculty based on academic and experiential performance. Neel has previously been named a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar in additional to his work with ALERT as a 2011 Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) student with ALERT-affiliated researcher David Kaeli. He was also active as a Gordon-CenSSIS Scholar and mentor. Neel is planning to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School.
Logan Jackson, E’16, Civil Engineering
Logan Jackson is the recipient of the 2015 Robert J. Shillman Award for Engineering Excellence, which recognizes extraordinary academic achievement in the fields of engineering and computer science. Logan was one of four NEU rising seniors awarded this year and is celebrated for her drive, focus and dedication in continuing to demonstrate academic excellence. In 2012, she conducted ALERT research as an REU student with ALERT Phase 1 researcher Mehrdad Sasani. Logan was also a 2012 Gordon Scholar and has mentored other scholars in the years since. She the current president of the Black Engineering Student Society and this year received the President’s Award.
Michael B. Silevitch, Director of ALERT
Simon Pitts, Director of the Gordon Institute of Engineering Leadership
Michael Silevitch and Simon Pitts were once again recognized by Northeastern as the recipients of the 2015 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Engineering Education by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). For more information about this award, please visit http://www.northeastern.edu/alert/news-article/2015-gordon-prize/. Bernard Gordon himself was on-hand to congratulate Michael and Simon on this distinction.
Michael B. Silevitch and Simon Pitts awarded 2015 Gordon Prize January 9, 2015
ALERT Center Director, Michael B. Silevitch and Gordon Engineering Leadership Director, Simon Pitts have been awarded the 2015 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Engineering Education by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Prof. Silevitch, who is the founding director of the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program (GEL) at Northeastern University, is recognized alongside Simon Pitts “for developing an innovative method to provide graduate engineers with the necessary personal skills to become effective engineering leaders.”
The GEL Program is a graduate curriculum offered through NEU’s College of Engineering, with the mission of creating an elite cadre of engineering leaders “who stand out from their peers in their ability to invent, innovate, and implement engineering projects from concept to market success.” Each year, a select number of Candidates pursue the program, which is based in “three-way mentorship.” Students are assigned to one mentor from the program, one from an industry partner, and another mentor who has expertise in each student’s field of interest.
Prof. Silevitch created, acted as its initial director, and is now a lead mentor for the students participating in the GEL program. When asked what receiving the Gordon Prize means for GEL, he explains:
“It’s a validation of the importance of developing a program for engineering leadership that will help our country maintain its international competiveness, in terms of technological innovation.”
The Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education was initiated in 2001 by NAE with the intent of recognizing new modalities and experiments in education that develop the next generation of effective engineering leaders. The Gordon Prize focuses on education innovations including “curricular design, teaching methods, and technology enabling learning that strengthens students’ capabilities and desire to grow into leadership roles.” This prestigious prize is one of 5 NAE annual awards established to “recognize leaders in engineering for their lifetime dedication to their field and their commitment to advancing the human condition and to bring better understanding of the importance of engineering and engineering education to society”.Read More
ALERT Researchers Win Best Propagation Paper Award at 2014 EUCAP April 18, 2014
Congratulations to our ALERT researchers, Prof. Yuri Álvarez, Yolanda Rodriguez (Ph.D. Candidate), Borja Gonzalez (PostDoc), Prof. Jose Martinez, and Prof. Carey Rappaport, who won the Best Propagation Paper Award at the EuCAP 2014 – the 8th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation. Their paper, “A compressed sensing-based imaging system,” was presented by Prof. Álvarez at the conference, which was held at the World Forum in The Hague in The Netherlands, on April 6th – 11th, 2014. Congratulations to our amazing ALERT team!
W. Clem Karl has been named an IEEE Fellow December 19, 2013
ALERT researcher W. Clem Karl of Boston University has been named an IEEE Fellow. This is the highest grade of membership in the world’s leading professional association for advancing technology for the benefit of society. Less than .1% of members are selected each year. Congratulations, Clem!
ALERT Phase 2 is Launched! November 18, 2013
On Tuesday, October 22, ALERT hosted representatives from the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate for a ceremony to launch its second phase of funding. In ALERT’s next 5 years, Northeastern University takes the lead, strategically partnered with Boston University, Purdue University and the University of Rhode Island to carry out its mission to develop effective response to explosives-related threats.
Representing Northeastern University, Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, Stephen Director started out the ceremony expressing his happiness to continue the relationships with the core partner universities and welcomes working with new partners like Purdue University. He mentioned that the work done at ALERT which is translational and used directly in the field, exists in Pasteur’s Quadrant – it seeks to understand fundamental science while also being beneficial to society. He then handed off the microphone to Department of Homeland Security Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Technology, Daniel Gerstein.
Gerstein recognized ALERT Director, Michael Silevitch and ALERT Phase 1 Co-Director Jimmie Oxley for their award, stating that another 5 years of funding was validation for the work that has gone on at the Center. He noted that ALERT is a consortium that creates innovation through basic research and is constantly trying to work together to fix today’s problems. Gerstein was followed up by Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate Office of University Programs Director, Matt Clark, who asked that the universities keep supporting ALERT, highlighting that it’s the partnerships that actually make a change.
Statements by the officials were followed up by brief comments by leadership of each of the core universities who all stated their optimistic vision for the next 5 years. Representatives included University of Rhode Island Vice President for Research and Economic Development, Gerald Sonnenfeld, Boston University Vice President and Associate Provost for Research, Gloria Waters, and a letter sent by Purdue University Vice President for Research, Richard Buckius.
The ALERT team looks forward to the new partnership and another successful 5 years as a Center of Excellence. ALERT’s next phase will also include partnering with other Department of Homeland Security Centers of Excellence as it works to carry out its mission.
Profs. Octavia Camps and Mario Sznaier Awarded NSF Grant September 16, 2013
ALERT and Gordon-CenSSIS researchers, Profs. Octavia Camps and Mario Sznaier, were awarded a $455K grant from the National Science Foundation to study “Dynamic Invariants for Video Scenes Understanding.” Congratulations, Prof. Camps and Sznaier!
TSA Federal Security Director Michael Young honors ALERT August 28, 2013
On Wednesday, August 28, ALERT researchers and personnel were honored with the presentation of an award by Ohio Transportation Security Administration Federal Security Director, Michael Young for ALERT’s efforts in the Video Analytic Surveillance Transition (VAST) project. The presentation, followed by a luncheon, was also attended by the Northeastern University Senior Vice Provost, Mel Bernstein, the Dean of Northeastern University’s College of Engineering, Nadine Aubry, and TSA Program Analyst, Edward Hertelendy.
ALERT’s VAST project, conducted in partnership with Siemens Corporate Research, TSA and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) is developing video analytics methods at CLE to address existing airport security concerns. As explained by ALERT director Michael Silevitch, “the ability to access real time data from the Cleveland airport enabled the ALERT researchers to test their methods and optimize performance. That, coupled with the collaboration of our industrial partner Siemens, was essential in terms of developing tools that would be of practical use to people in the field.”
Taking a moment to recognize the partnership between ALERT and the TSA, Dean Aubry expressed that ALERT is a model center to the College of Engineering. “We are really proud to be able to do user inspired research, but the challenge is to take that research and to apply technology transfer in order to really make an impact on society and the security of our airports, and that’s what you are doing”. In her closing remarks the Dean emphasized the value of the collaboration for both academia and industry.
Senior Vice Provost Bernstein reminded the attendees that the award ALERT was being honored with was not only an award about the outstanding work being done, but also for the commitment to the mission of advancement for the common good. “The model program between ALERT and the Cleveland airport is really quite impressive,” he said. “The fact is that this may not have been the easiest thing to do, but it really speaks to the opportunity, talent, the willingness of the Northeastern side, and the understanding that TSA has to be able to make this kind of investment. This is really what we had hoped would happen in the early days of DHS, and this is one great example”.
Michael Young, while presenting the award to the ALERT team, mentioned the recent successes of the VAST partnership, and the notability of the project through both industry and academia. He briefly explained his history with the ALERT Center of Excellence and noted that this award is really about collaboration. The award states on it, “In recognition of your technological research and innovation in support of TSA-Cleveland in the development of advanced algorithms for CCTV Surveillance Systems”. Director Young then proceeded to present the ALERT team with TSA Challenge Coins to show appreciation and recognize the work and support of each individual team member.
This award reflects ALERT’s ability to make a positive impact on critical problems faced by the Homeland Security Enterprise. ALERT looks forward to continuing this valuable partnership with the Transportation Security Administration through years to come.
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